Friday, April 11, 2008


No, I didn't convert for myself. I'm on DirecTV and won't have to. But I have a couple of impoverished friends who can't afford cable or satellite. (In fact, they're currently both jobhunting.) So, since they got their two $40 rebate certificates, I decided to help them out by buying their converter boxes. How much trouble could it be? Famous Last Words.

I even shopped. Of the four stores authorized to sell these boxes with the discount, Ripoff Shack had a $59 box, which the over-eager (and sales-desperate) clerk practically jumped in my pants to sell me. I backed off and made sure my zipper was intact before travelling on.

Next store: Cursed City. The converters were well hidden, in the back of the store. They clearly wanted people to buy big-screen TV's with the tuners built in, instead of using their old TV sets. Also $59. And only two of them in stock. Kind of suspicious. Before a salesman could pounce on me again, I left. I didn't even want to go to Beastly Buy.

That left the store with the lowest price, Evil*Mart. I don't like shopping there, but in this instance my friends were desperate to save money (my money, that is) and so I went there. I got the boxes from a nice tidy pile in the electronics department. Wait a minute. Do these have all the cables needed to make the TV's work? I ask a clerk in the electronics department. He looks up in what is either a drug-induced or sleep-deprivation-induced haze and said. "Uh, no. Um...wait a minute. Uh, yeah. Got everything you need in there." Not that they had an open box, or that he was willing to open a box, or even stated what was in the box on the box. Ah, well...I take the boxes to the checkout.

With these few items I go to the 20-item-or-less lane. I pull out the two coupons for my friends, which look like red plastic credit cards. The little Asian lady behind the register looks at me and says "I don't know how do this. I call supervisor." She presses a button on the register. "What this for?" She asks. "Where you get coupon?"

I calmly explain, "From the government. Here's the paper they came on." She gazes at the paper and says "I never hear of this. Let me write this down." As she writes, I try to calm my growing anger. We have been running ads for digital conversion every day, all over the place, ever since December, and talking about the coupon deal regularly. So has every other freaking broadcast station in the country. She "never hear of this"???

Five minutes go by. Ten minutes. Another clerk walks by. I look up hopefully. Is it a supervisor? No such luck. "How you do these things?" the Asian lady asks, holding up the red credit cards. The second clerk looks dully at the cards. "I dunno." Then says, "Damn. You made me forget what I was doing." And she turns and goes back to try to remember what she was doing. I shake my head and wonder at this visible example of marijuana's destruction of short-term memory.

Another clerk comes by. This one looks like Napolean Dynamite if he was trying to starve himself to death. The red-haired skeleton says " Never seen 'em before." Then, at the twenty minute mark, I idly glance at the sheet taped to the sign pole behind the register. I read the heading on the page. "Aren't these the instructions for redeeming the cards?" I say. Suddenly, Asian Lady says, "Oh!"

It takes another five minutes for her to have ME read the instructions, for her to enter the bar code, then the serial number of each unit, for ME to scan the cards through the card reader, and to get this squared away. At one point Asian Lady uses her scanner gun to try to scan the MAGNETIC STRIP on the coupon cards, with a LASER SCANNER, mind you. Finally, I get out of there. 25 minutes after getting in line. And no supervisor showed up to help. I had to depend upon the combined mental incompetency of three different clerks to work through the problem with the solution posted in front of their faces.

(panting horribly)

Okay, folks. This is not simply a minor thing. This conversion to DTV has been hammered down the public's throat for the last five months. Asian Lady has had the sign explaining how to redeem these cards staring her in the face for at least the last three months. How incompetent can these people be?

I admit that I don't have the greatest job in the universe myself, but I try to apply myself to it. Over the years, by the simple property of giving a damn, I've gotten a modicum of respect, a few small raises, and the trust of my employer. If I were forced to work a Wal-Mart register, I would apply myself to learning the stuff I needed to know. I would strive to be good at my job.

And even if my bosses screwed me on days off, overtime, medical care and the rest - as I know Wal-Mart does to all its "associates" - I would still do a good job. Because if I ever expected to get a job at a good store, I would want to be good at my job.

When Wal-Mart started, it was considered a place of hope; an alternative to the depressing, scummy, filthy K-Mart stores. It has declined to the point that K-Mart looks good by comparison. You no longer need makeup to make a Living Dead movie; just set your camcorder at the checkout line and catch the "associates" and their dispirited, zombie customers.

If these are the kind of hoops ordinary civilians must dive through to get a simple government-sponsored rebate, no wonder people are pisssed at broadcasting's "digital initiative."

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